It's the post-apocalypse anime TV show with a Biblical body count, in which the hero does martial arts so violent that his enemies' heads explode! Children loved it, obviously. This isn't one of the never-ending series like Doraemon, One Piece and so on, but it's still massive enough that I'm tackling it bit by bit. This week: Part 2.
That's not just fan-created nomenclature, by the way. Episode 57 ends with "end of part 2". You could think of it as a season or a story block, if you like.
Going through in order...
23. New title sequence! Same music, though, thank goodness. Fist of the North Star is one of the all-time greats for theme songs. Kenshiro's in a bad mood, but that's not unreasonable after Part 1. The brutality's perhaps a little toned down, but this is still "toned down" in the sense of "nice touch when that guy's feet were drumming on the ground even after his head's exploded".
25. This is definitely a change of pace. We have ongoing supporting characters (Rei, Mamiya), a group of villains (the Fang Family) who'd never have stayed alive this long in Part 1 and a new thematic angle. Everyone has family. The supporting characters want to avenge and/or find siblings, while family is all-important for the oddly pathetic Fangs. "If you kill me, my father will be angry!" The following episode will also have a giant psycho killer launching a murderous raid on innocents while remembering how his big brother gave him a soft toy panda for a present.
26. Mamiya says she's not a woman but a warrior, to which Rei responds by stripping her naked. (With hindsight, this is a significant scene.) This is also the third episode in a row in which we see nipples, by the way. Gotta love 1980s children's TV.
29. To think that I mistook the Fangs for a monster-of-the-week! In the end, though... oooh, that's a flamboyant death for Daddy. The Fangs were great, actually. I like the way they're not just violent thugs, but cowardly, snivelling, anti-heroic thugs who nonetheless reflect the new season's theme by having family bonds just as strong as our heroes'.
30. A new kind of gross, even for Fist of the North Star. This show out-splatters every known horror franchise. If you're looking for outrageously over-the-top gore and evil, try this episode. Also note: comedy saw in head.
34. Most evil arm-wrestling ever.
...okay, that's it for episode-by-episode descriptions. What we're into by now is further development of the "family" theme, with Kenshiro's brothers Jagi, Toki and Rao. Makes sense, I suppose. Every hero needs enemies who can stand against him. You could throw an army at Kenshiro and not even slow him down, but Rao in particular is so terrifying that it feels like a triumph for anyone (yes, including Kenshiro) to go up against him and still be alive ten seconds later. I think he's unbeatable.
Kenshiro's brothers (especially Toki) also extend the messianic theme. Note Mamiya being likened to the Virgin Mary in episode 57, for instance, or the way in which Kenshiro's 2000-year-old martial arts (Hokuto Shinken) are the same age as Christianity. He protects the weak and can heal by laying on hands, which his brother Toki will take to even greater medical extremes (as well as being an even more literal Jesus with his inner zen peace and his lookalike headband and beard). There are prophecies. There's a psychic link between Kenshiro and Rin in episode 40. Kenshiro's brother is the Antichrist. Also, obviously, it's the end of the world, with Old Testament giants and horrors on a par with the Book of Revelation.
The characterisation is richer than in Part 1, but still lop-sided. The fundamental story unit is always going to be people killing other people in a world that's a living hell. The kids in episode 53 shouldn't have been that annoying, for instance. Kenshiro's awe-inspiring, but he's (a) unkillable, and (b) the ultimate Stoic Hero. He's as vulnerable as an incoming meteorite. Rei, Ai, Toki and Mamiya are far more interesting, if only because they might die. Admittedly the concluding big death is too macho and stoic to be as effective as it should have been, but it took them extreme character journeys to get there.
I still love Rin and Batto, though. Rin in episode 31... wow. However, why has no one eaten her puppy and why does it never grow any bigger? (Maybe she has an infinite supply of them.)
It's possible to impose a gay reading. This is a horrific post-apocalypse setting in which women are cattle to be kidnapped by the most violent thugs, so you'd expect the worst kinds of rape and sex slavery. (On children's TV, yes.) This appears to have happened to two important female characters, but to focus only on that would be to ignore a strong homosexual element. Episode 24 includes a gay thug, but more importantly this story arc's the entire last act is given over to a drag queen (Yugi) who's obsessed with being the world's strongest and most beautiful man. His final moments are basically a big gay love confession to the man who's killed him. He keeps a harem of beautiful women, yes, but you could just as easily imagine him collecting paintings of birds or sunsets.
Note also the way that blood sometimes isn't red, but glowing and white. I'm going to guess that this is an attempt to stop the audience from complaining to their mothers and/or vomiting, but it still means that this is a show in which ridiculously muscular half-naked men penetrate each other with their fists and then spurt white.
This show is amazing. You'd expect it to be both unwatchable and tediously repetitive, but in fact it's full of surprises and odd subtleties. Admittedly "subtle" isn't a word you'll see people using often in connection with Fist of the North Star, but I was surprised by the character work in episodes 31 and 44, for instance, and I admire the wholeheartedness with which they pursue their themes and metaphors. This isn't a show for half-measures. Note the imagery of roses and swans at the end. However at the same time it's also breathtaking and sometimes hilarious in its extremes of violence. Episode 40 is brilliant in the way it has Kenshiro spouting macho bullshit that no one could take literally... AND THEN HE DOES IT. Word for word. I almost died laughing.
Deserves its reputation, and more.